The Tucson Police Department wrapped up their month-long bicycle and pedestrian safety campaign, but additional funds from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety will allow them to continue the campaign throughout the year.
According to Sergeant Jerry Skeenes, who has been in charge of the campaign, the department will spread the money out over the rest of the year to keep the awareness up.
“It won’t be quite as intense,” Skeenes said.
The original funding ran out on Sept. 23 and resulted in over 1,600 tickets being written.
Skeenes said past targeted enforcement campaigns were the result of complaints from people in the community, which meant they were going out and trying to correct a problem. This time they were given the money and could use it how they saw fit.
“We were not told how to do it,” Skeenes said. “They just gave us money and told us to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Erik Ryberg, an attorney representing bicyclists and a critic of TPD’s past actions against bicyclists, said he was pleased with the results from the campaign but said there was still room for improvement.
“It is an immense improvement from what has been occurring in the past,” Ryberg said.
He said he was glad to see the police department responded to cyclists’ complaints about the Mountain Avenue and Grant Road intersection.
“That is an example of TPD listening to bicyclists,” Ryberg said. “As far as I know, this is pretty much the first time that has ever happened.”
He was equally happy the officers tried to find motorists who violated the three-foot rule.
“It is a huge step forward that TPD is even considering these kinds of operations,” he said.
Despite the improvement, Ryberg said he still saw officers setting up at the Fourth Avenue underpass, ticketing cyclists who weren’t just blowing through the intersection but who also weren’t coming to a complete stop either. He said that type of behavior isn’t what is causing injuries.
“I think we should remember that most of the time, when cyclists are injured it is because of a motorist violation,” Ryberg said.
Skeenes said there were both some bright spots and challenging situations during the enforcement.
According to Skeenes, the cyclists who were stopped were more generally more aggressive and angry than motorists who know they violated the law. Many of the cyclists thought they were actually riding safely and that the laws were wrong.
Pima County bicycle and pedestrian program manager Matt Zoll also works closely with the bicycle ambassadors who helped educate cyclists as well as the officers who were part of the enforcement.
Skeenes said handing out the information provided by the bike ambassadors was helpful in showing those cyclists why the way they were riding is dangerous.
Zoll said the point of having the ambassadors out there was to educate, not be an extension of the police.
“We are just there as a resource,” Zoll said. “We are the soft approach.”
Skeenes said he was pleasantly surprised by the support he received from the majority of the bike community.
“I never had a group of people that actually worked with us like the bike community did,” Skeenes said. “That was just amazing how great the support was. We could work together to achieve a goal of trying to make it safer for cyclists. I’ve been here for 16 years and that was very impressive.”
Ryberg said overall he was happy with the enforcement and thinks the bike community should be proud.
“I think it is important for bicyclists to be proud of the fact that we are actually making a dent in the behavior of our law enforcement agency,” Ryberg said.
Ryberg hopes the changes will continue and become even more pronounced as the police department spends the additional $30,000 they received.
“I hope they will think hard about how to spend this money in the most efficient manner to protect bicyclists,” Ryberg said. “If they are measuring their success by how many tickets they write then they are going to go to Fourth Avenue and University and they are going to write tickets all day long. If they measure their success in how much of a dent they make in the population of injured bicyclists, then they are going to look at things like headlight violations, wrong way riding and the kinds of violations motorists commit that put bicyclists in danger.”
Zoll said he wants to continue working with TPD to develop a plan for spending the rest of the money.
“My hope is that we could sit down and talk about the program and how we can help more,” Zoll said. “It would be nice to try to do this as carefully as possible and as proactively as possible.”
Editor’s note: The data provided by TPD doesn’t always make a distinction between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Therefore the numbers may be off slightly.